What Are You Reading This Summer?

Even though we still have a month until the summer equinox, we are in summertime mode around here. School is out, the pool is open, Memorial Day barbecues have IMG_4503happened. I have a stack of library books I’m working through (and have put all my holds on suspension until I get through these!) I was reviewing my recently read books and noticed I had a streak of three 5-star books in a row!

I thought I’d commemorate that with a post about my favorite 5-star books of 2017 (so far). Maybe they’ll inspire your summer reading list.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This novel about the first expedition to Alaska’s interior captured my imagination. Ivey uses a variety of styles, between letters, emails, journals, and museum documentation. She creates a world around Alan and Sophie’s separation in the late-1800’s and then jumps to the present. Sometimes this format can feel cumbersome or forced, but Ivey seamlessly weaves the plot lines together, creating a rich idea of what could have happened on those early expeditions.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This stunning debut novel and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award deserves all of the accolades! The story follows two sisters and seven generations. One one branch, we follow Effia who marries an Englishman and stays in Ghana. The other branch follows Esi, who is captured and sold into slavery in America. Each chapter is the next generation’s tale. The writing is captivating and this is a powerful book about the deep roots of racism. It’s an important read and can bring to light systemic issues in ways that can only be done in powerful fiction.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
I love short stories and I love Neil Gaiman’s writing, so I had a feeling this would be a winner. If you like magical realism or slightly disturbing fiction, this is a fantastic collection. There are some familiar characters – one story is a tale of Sherlock & Mycroft Holmes; one is a Doctor Who episode; one follows Shadow from American Gods. Others where previously published and a couple are written for this collection. They all caught my imagination and drew me in to fantastic landscapes, which I love.

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein 
This is the only nonfiction book to make my list (which is unusual for me!) and one that I am recommending to EVERYONE. If you’re a parent of girls, this is a definite must-read. But if you’re a teacher or a youth leader or you want to raise responsible boys, this is an important book. Orenstein’s dissemination of research is relatable and well gathered. This book has made me completely rethink how we’ll have these conversations with our girls and has reset my expectations for what life as a teenager looks like. It’s a lot to take in and I’m glad I read this before we enter this stage.

Currently Reading: On my nightstand right now are The Turquoise TableA Man Called Ove, Jayber Crow, and The Novel of the Century. I’m liking them all so far – maybe my streak will exceed three in a row?

What are some five-star books that you’ve read recently? What are your summer reads?

Review: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans + Giveaway

My faith journey is very typical of my millennial generation: I grew up in the church; was hurt by it; found healing in a liturgical environment; stopped going for a while; have found my way back. Obviously details and order may be different, but over and over I hear people with a similar storyline. At my most critical, church seems antiquated and unwilling to consider that change is an important part of growth. At my most generous, I recognize the community that church provides and that most believers really are trying to emulate the message of love Jesus gave his followers.

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I’ve connected with Rachel Held Evans‘ blog for many years, as she is an eloquent voice for my generation. I’ve read her other books, but Searching for Sunday is by far her best. It’s a good balance of memoir, theology, church history, and practical observation. Written in an easily accessible style, Searching for Sunday examines Evans’ journey of leaving the church, but not being able to let it go. Evans describes her process of being too immersed in evangelical culture and being unable to ask questions or accept doubt.

What I appreciate most about the book is that Evans doesn’t attempt to speak for an entire generation – she tells her story. But, in doing so, she captures many of the feelings and experiences of the millennial generation. This is not a theology text, but a story of journey and discovery. Anyone who is critical of or curious as to why millennials are leaving the church would benefit from the insights and questions this book brings up.

Evans’ undertone of grace and reconciliation is what makes this book stand out. Rather than simply complaining about how the church has hurt her, she seeks to find restoration in her experience. She never gave up on the idea of church, but just needed to take time to find a space that works for her at the moment. She doesn’t hold one denomination higher than another, but finds hope and love in many different settings. I feel that if the church remembered this – that we are all looking toward the same end, but with a different approach – perhaps so much of the infighting in the Christian church would cease.

As Evans says,

Our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace. (185)

This is a book of hope for the future and one in which I think many Christians will identify.

Tell me about your faith community. What makes it work for you?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Searching for Sunday. To enter, leave a comment about an experience of searching for the “perfect” community. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, April 17, 2015. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

52 Books

For the first time in my life, I made a reading goal for myself. Bea is at a wonderfully independent stage – I can sit in the playroom or backyard and read while she goes on her own little adventures. She likes to have me in eyesight, but doesn’t necessarily want me to interact with her during this playtime.

I decided to try to read 52 books this year – a book per week. Yesterday, I finished my 52nd book. Frank thought I should up my goal to 100 books for the year, but I think I’ll just go back to reading without goals. Or maybe I’ll use the rest of the year to finally tackle my copy of War and Peace. We’ll see…

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Of these 52 books, 13 were 5-star and only one was 1-star. I thought I’d share my top-5 favorite reads of the year so far. You can find all of my 5 star books over at Pinterest and all of my reading at Goodreads.

1) An Alter in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
This series of essays on life and faith was encouraging and thought-provoking. Brown’s ability to connect life-stories with lessons and thoughts on spirituality without it sounding like a short blog post was refreshing. It was a good reminder of what spiritual memoir can look like.

2) Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
I’ve kind of stalled out on the TV show, but Kerman’s memoir is an important book. She brings up questions of prison reform and social inequality through an engaging telling of her own experience in a minimum-security prison. She also gives a list of resources at the end, which I found helpful for the “now what?” questions I had upon finishing.

3) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This novel of a Nigerian woman who moves to the US for college and then back to Nigeria as an adult brings up important questions of race, fitting in, and immigrant culture. It’s a well-done novel – one in which you learn, which I enjoy. D.L. Mayfield wrote a wonderful review over at SheLoves magazine.

4) God Has a Dream by Desmond Tutu
Sometimes I can get mired down with the news – Why can’t we learn from our mistakes? Is it so hard to love our neighbors? Tutu’s thoughts on hope and reconciliation are as important today as they were ten years ago. I especially appreciated his point of view because he actively practices what he expresses.

5) Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland
I appreciated Cleveland’s view that we need to recognize differences in order to better understand each other. She talks about how we are wired to form groups – it’s a survival technique – but that we still need to be aware that we have more in common with The Other group than we’d like to think. This is a book I have connected to many other books and conversations, even after finishing it.

Have you ever made a reading goal? What are some 5-star books you’ve read this year?